Financial Manageability + Selling Art + Real Life
Dec 07, 2021
My financial spreadsheet for my art business has been a love/hate relationship to say the least. I started this thing painting and hoping for the impossible to happen, but almost not even daring to dream. I threw myself into a challenge to do as much work as I possibly could so I wouldn’t look back on my life and regret not trying. Let me rephrase that - not trying for a second time because I failed so hard the first time.“Do the damn thing” T told me. Thank God for the women around me that have started their own successful business from just an idea. Tianna is one that has been key in my growth and success, starting with listening to her that day, and starting. To do the damn thing.
It was March of 2020. I had literally nothing else going on. My restaurant management experience taught me exactly how hard I can work for someone else, even if I out picture them as the worst people on the planet. Why couldn’t I do that for myself? Fear? I couldn’t even imagine success as an artist let alone the actual skills required to know how to navigate and maintain something like that - but I had finally learned how to focus, and be responsible.
So how did I, the most financially unmanageable and irresponsible person I have ever met - learn how to balance everything for my own art business and still make a profit? Well. That’s a funny, long story but I’ll give it a shot.
I used to work a seasonal job in Las Vegas that I pretended wasn’t seasonal. It was the same cycle every year- make bank during convention season, be super irresponsible (ask me how many pairs of $80 yoga pants I used to have), live off of payday loans in the summer, and spend the next half of the following convention season paying back those loans.
When Kevin and I got married I was like a spoiled child. (I often laugh at how awful the first year of our marriage must have been for him. I’m proud to say I have grown up a whole lot. He deserves that, and so do I.) But really. It was a crazy time - he couldn’t work while the visa process for immigration was getting worked out. I taught art and yoga and waited tables occasionally. We lived on minimal groceries from walmart, mexican food and credit cards, getting into a lot of debt.
It was the one major point of contention in our marriage. He would tell me that he felt isolated and alone in the financial stress because I didn’t participate in any of it. That was just always how I dealt with anything financial. Ignore it until I absolutely have to deal with the damage. Whenever he would bring it up I could never see past what I was feeling. Honestly, I felt so much shame and so stupd that my only reaction was anger, and blaming him for my feelings. I was so embarrassed that I was 32 years old and still had no idea how to take care of myself - I felt like I had tricked him into thinking I was just this brilliant, put together person, and I wasn’t. I just didn’t know how to say that, or how important it was that I learned how to say it. I had somehow gotten into this with the expectation that he would fix it all. Which of course I would never admit to him or myself. My reactions laid out those expectations loud enough for the both of us.
That’s the thing with marriage. I was clean for five years in recovery, had been in therapy for five years - but my life was still completely unmanageable. BUT not as unmanageable as it had been in the past before I got clean and help from a professional so there was always this comparison of circumstances to justify where I was at. At 5 years clean in my life my unmanageability with food and reactions to emotions, money, and stress I could always hide pretty ok from people that I wasn’t super close with (if you’re reading this, knew me then, and are rolling your eyes - I get it. Maybe I didn’t hide it so great.) But there is this conjoining that happens when you get married that nobody seems to warn you about. Suddenly there was nowhere to hide. My life - all of my good and bad and all of his good and bad - was now all of our good and our bad.
When we decided to move to San Diego from Las Vegas in 2017 we heard a whole lot about how it’s way too expensive. One night we started an excel spreadsheet, listing every single expense we could think of and seeing if we could make it work. Money was still the thing in our marriage - and that was on me, because any time it came up I would just start a fight. I just fundamentally could not have a rational conversation about it. I had to do a shit load of work about guilt and shame that I have surrounding money to understand that I don’t have to stay stuck, and drag my husband down with me - in the reality that I created in a long distant past.
One day while explaining to my sponsor the intricacies of how awful our financial chemistry is she said very simply “Why don’t you guys just sit down and pay the bills together?” That suggestion changed everything. We took our excel spreadsheet and picked a color every month, highlighting every bill/ it’s amount and due date with the new color for the month that had been paid. For the first six months or so we had to order a pizza to do this together. It could get pretty tense but now, years later, we sit down twice a month to do this. I know how everything is paid and where and how to balance everything. I don’t think about bills today, let alone stress about them. We always have enough and a little extra to save. I don’t over shop today or obsess on what next thing I’m buying (Ok, as much.) We are both in the mindset of staying completely debt free and what we can save. Which in California, for us both having great jobs that we love and not some shit rush traffic commute + a 60-80 hr/ week gig - is a miracle.
My art spreadsheet started as a fun game of seeing every one of my paintings that had a forever home - their title, dimensions, geographical location. One morning it was like I just woke up and started trying to remember them all and where they are. To that point, I had painted and given away about 200 paintings. I spent all morning into the afternoon listing them. It gave me a sense of accomplishment to see how many paintings I had started and gifted over the decade.
In January of 2021 I started listing all of my expenses on a basic spreadsheet and keeping a file saved in my gmail account of all of my receipts. This was because in December of 2020 I didn’t document anything but I made a profit - so for our taxes I had to painstakingly go back and dig out my receipts and document a year's worth of art related purchases. I’ll say it six times I write anything - I have to do stuff wrong and deal with the mess to learn most of the time. This was no different. It's funny because I had a perfect spreadsheet of our personal finances that I was comfortable with - the light bulb to do the same thing but with my business just never clicked. I just built the exact same over time.
By December of 2021 this is what my spreadsheet for Heather Pond Art looked like.
The whole left side is about breaking down expenses.
Vendor - who did I buy it from? Date. Miles in case I drove anywhere for tax purposes later. Cost. What it was, and category. My categories are color coated - they range from marketing, packing materials, art supplies, canvas so with the color coat I can see at a glance where my biggest cost is (It’s shipping and epoxy resin. Every time.)
The right side - collector - who is buying the art? Title, Dimensions.Date. This is very important because while they have a certificate of authenticity I also have a record of sale on my end. This is simple and not something I need to do. But when I say my canvases are like my children I really mean that. 30 years from now, I know I will want to know who that original owner was. It is a foundation of love for how far I dream my career will go. Call that what you will, but what else am I doing if I’m not dreaming?
Type is also color coated so I can see at a glance what is selling where and how much of it. Those categories are web, commission, or marketing. Marketing is any painting I give away, which I have no problem doing. The paintings go where they want to go, not based on what I’m trying to make.
Asking price and amount paid are next and then the brutal costs - fees (shopify takes about 4% for each transaction.) Shipping (costs of shipping.) Carrier - ups/fedex - this is to be able to compare prices of who ships what where. Lastly destination- this is so I can see quickly how much it is to ship a certain size to where.
On the bottom of the sheet I have a total of everything I have been paid, spent on just supplies and marketing, spent on shipping, my profit for that month and my profit for that year. The very bottom line is how much I put into our personal checking from the month, and how much I have carried over to the next month in case I have stuff on my credit card etc that hasn’t gone through yet to be paid.
So all of the information is just a structure to teach me what I’m doing, where it’s going, to whom, and how much it costs .As soon as a collector books a commission I add it into my spreadsheet with the size, price agreed and date so I can plan what is next accordingly. Once it is all created and sold I fill in the rest of the boxes. Order and alignment. It was about four months into this year when I was sitting in my backyard and it hit me - I need to have separate accounts from my personal amazon and checking accounts. So I got
- A separate checking account for just my art. All of my venmo, apple pay, paypal and shopify accounts pay into this account. Before it was our personal checking and that is just ridiculous and there is no way to adequately balance that.
- A credit card for my business only. Every single thing I buy each month that is not on amazon for my business is with this card. I pay this card with the business checking account only.
- A separate amazon account and amazon card.
Now at the end of every month I can balance my spreadsheet to my separate business bank account. Which sounds like complete dumb common sense, but it took me a long time for that to all formulate and exist. And none of it was just something I knew how to do. Mostly because I have always had such a low sense of identity and self worth around anything financial. My dear friend and sponsor Laura is a financial expert - it is her career - and she has helped me grow in this area immensely.
I can say that NONE of this has just come to me altogether. The only thing I did every day was wake up and hope I would be able to make it work - and if an idea came to me I’d scribble it down. As I have said before, this entire experience of the creating and business of selling art has felt like a free fall.So anything that organizes any element of the 22 processes that such a thing entails I will try if it comes to me. And who knows. Maybe I’m doing it all wrong. But so far, it’s working.
If you want your own copy of my spreadsheet that you can for yourself I’m super happy to share it with you. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org & I’ll pass it on to you. :)
I listen to the song "learning to fly" by Tom Petty a lot. It reminds me of going for a job inerview in a really fancy restaraunt in River North in Chicago. I was terrified of that interview. I was stuck in inbound Chicago loop rush hour traffic where all of the freeways intersect. Suddenly, all of the traffic cleared. Learning to Fly came on, and I got to my interview on time. I had an overwhelming feeling as I passed all of the president street names in the loop on the Kennedy expressway that it was all going to be ok. And it was. And then it wasn't. But then it was. And it all just goes in a circle as I pick out what I am going to learn.
Maybe I'll know when I get there where I'm going, too. For now - order, and alignment.